There’s a collective angst amongst most Cowboys fans.
Being that it’s been nearly 25 years since any level of championship success for America’s Team, the fanbase sits atop the mountain of rabid and paranoid bunches around the league. We look for any shred of hope, but the level of panic Cowboys Nation embodies can certainly get exhausting.
So when newly hired head coach Mike McCarthy’s former team looks way better off without him, that panic starts to creep in.
Following their most disappointing two-year run in the Aaron Rodgers era, Green Bay fired McCarthy, hired Matt LaFleur and began their journey to the NFC title game. It certainly looks like all the Packers had to do in order to get to the place Dallas hasn’t been since 1995/96 was fire the coach the Cowboys just hired.
Green Bay is enjoying life after McCarthy to the tune of a 13-3 season and NFC championship game appearance, but just how much of that has to do with McCarthy’s firing? Well, as usual in the NFL, some level of the Packers’ turnaround can be attributed to the new staff, but certainly not all of it.
Matt LaFleur is an awesome play designer.
Let’s start there. Under McCarthy, the Packers offense got stale in the final years. Once one of the most consistently efficient and explosive offenses in the league, Green Bay fell to 25th and 12th in passing DVOA over his last two years with the team. He and Aaron Rodgers did not get along, and McCarthy’s predictable play calling became a Packers Twitter meme (see: slant/flant combo).
Matt LaFleur is a bit like the anti-Mike McCarthy when it comes to modern play design. In 2018 the Packers ranked 27th in the league in play action rate (20%), but LaFleur’s increased the rate to 27% in one season. This increase has led to some chunk passing plays down the field, something LaFleur was able to generate in Tennessee off play action as well.
Despite the play action increase, Rodgers’ bread and butter remains the quick game. In fact 68% of the Packers’ dropback passes have been quick drops, indicating that LaFleur has adjusted his offense to match what his quarterback does best.
Where there was tension between McCarthy and Rodgers, the quarterback and his new head coach seem to have found a happy medium in terms of play-calling.
He doesn’t get talked about in this way, but what Matt LaFleur has done in terms of offensive design and play-calling is coach of the year type stuff. He’s as creative, smart, and open-minded on offense as advertised, and has allowed the Packers to find their identity over the course of the entire season.
While Rodgers has declined as a consistent passer and playmaker off script, LaFleur has found ways to deploy guys like Aaron Jones to make this offense as effective as possible.
Something Mike McCarthy really wasn’t able to do in 2018.
Don’t worry, though – this isn’t all about a coaching change.
While you may be panicking after the first section of this post, don’t fret too much. LaFleur has been an awesome influence on the formerly stale offense, but maybe the biggest reason for the Packers turnaround is what they did in free agency.
Especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Signing Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to massive offseason contracts was largely uncharacteristic for the Packers franchise, but it helped propel them to the heights they’ve reached this season.
The two edge rushers combined for 23.5 sacks in 2019, leading one of the most improved units in all of football. If not for these signings, who knows where the Packers would be this season – even with LaFleur’s influence on the other side of the ball.
Then there’s guys like Kenny Clark, Jaire Alexander, and Darnell Savage – young defensive playmakers that have taken huge steps under Mike Pettine in 2019.
Mike McCarthy has said all the right things during his comeback tour, earning him the job in Dallas and a five year contract. Whether or not it will be a success is yet to be seen, but the success of the Packers post-McCathy does not mean he will fail in Dallas.
This is a totally different team, with a much different (and so far better) staff around him. If McCarthy is serious about implementing new ideas into his offensive strategy, and utilizing analytics to the fullest effect, then he should be able to bring the Cowboys back to the postseason in 2020.
Unfortunately at this point – we just have to wait and see.